One of the great blessings of travel is that occasionally you get to meet people who would never have touched your life’s “normal” circle. San Cristóbal has offered me several of those moments ...
— from my first night here when my taxi driver couldn’t find the address where I was supposed to stay, did not speak English and had no phone. About the time when I was wondering just what might happen to me, an angel dressed in white appeared. Her name was Blanca; she spoke English and sorted out the problem and promptly delivered me to my door. The next day, over a thank-you lunch, we discovered areas of commonality despite our polar backgrounds, and became friends.
— to a nun who came here eighteen years ago to start a project to help the Mayan people learn photography in order to document their own lives and culture. Not only did Carlota Duarte tell me fascinating stories about her journey that led her to San Cristóbal and the formation of the Chiapas Photography Project, which is now sending amazing photographic exhibits around the world, but she also introduced me to Jonathan Castañeda, who has become my conversation coach and friend.
— to the hostess of the place where I’m staying, whom I’ve yet to meet in person, but who, through her books and a lot of emailing has introduced me to the world of Mayan textiles and many other interesting people. Janet Schwartz is now on a six-month grant in Israel to photograph and write about what she finds there.
— to a woman who adopts people and opens her home to fascinating gatherings of folks from different backgrounds, cultures, and worlds. Alison opened a conversation in a coffee shop my first day here and was kind enough to add me to her tribe. At one of her gatherings, I met Pablo* (not his real name).
I knew at our first meeting in Alison's home that Pablo was a unique soul. Yesterday I got to spend several hours with him as we worked our way through the mundane task of traveling to Tuxtla (one hour away) and mailing a package, a seemingly simple task made more difficult by customs and bureaucracy.
We spent much of the day talking about how Pablo arrived here in San Cristóbal which is always a fun story since people come here from all over the world ... many coming just for a visit and then just somehow staying on. Pablo came ten years ago and he’s still here, now taking care of 16 street dogs, 16 cats and 2 lame horses. He is also helping a group of indigenous local women, who can't read or have experiences with the world outside of their villages, get their hand-made textiles to the market using the internet.
I was fascinated with the logistics of caring for so many animals … especially when I found out that it involved cooking 3 kilos (a little over 6.6 pounds) of rice every day and spending hours buying and carrying home enormous amounts of food without benefit of a truck or car! However, his eyes light up when he talks about each one of his animal family and how they respond to having a home where fed, petted and brushed … and how he sometimes sleeps with up to 12 cats. It takes an enormous amount of time and effort to care for so many abused and wounded animals, but Pablo’s response when I asked, was “This wasn’t my plan but what else would I do?” In addition to feeding his adopted family every day, he carries dog food on all his trips to town to feed the street dogs.
Pablo is an off-the-grid kind of guy who lives in the country where he has built his own cabin, installed a solar panel to heat water and uses a composting toilet and tends his garden. He doesn’t consider any of this “work”; it’s just all part of his life.
As we traveled through his day, I watched Pablo “gift” everyone he came into contact with … a conversation with the woman who sells snacks in the bus station a mini-lesson in English for the guy at the post office counter, smiles and jokes everywhere. At some point I realized that this is a man who is content with his life ... a man at peace with a world that often makes no sense but offers him “enough."
*Why am I using a pseudonym? ... Pablo asked me to.